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Ed's Great Cargo Trailer Conversion

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As you probably know, I’m a big fan of converting a cargo trailer; so much that’s what I did and live in.  I love the versatility of living in the trailer in the winter, then storing it and taking just the van in the summer for longer trips. One question I get all the time is why didn’t I buy a used Travel Trailer instead since they are about the same price? It has these advantages compared to buying a used Travel Trailer:

  • It’s a blank slate for you to create just what you want and nothing more.
  • They have far superior construction. With the aluminum skin and steel ribs they’ll last for decades of trouble-free service.
  • They’re cheap compared to any RV. My 6×10 cargo trailer with numerous upgrades only cost $2500 new.
  • Because of the aluminum, they are much lighter than nearly all RVs and can be towed by most SUVs.
  • They have better ground clearance for taking them into the back-country like narrow Forest roads or narrow desert roads. The aluminum skin can handle winding, tree-chocked roads you could never take any Travel Trailer down, especially a fiberglass trailer. With their high ground clearance and clean bottoms you can take them through a desert wash without fear of high-centering or ripping out your plumbing or tanks.
  • His cargo trailer is light enough to be easily towed by his Chevy Envoy SUV so he gets a very nice daily driver, decent MPG and tow vehicle.

To my mind their only competition are the small fiberglass egg-shaped trailers like the Cassita, Scamp or Burro. For many people they are the perfect choice, but for me they aren’t a good option:

  • They’re so popular they are very expensive. I can’t afford them even used.
  • They aren’t a blank slate. Most of the things they have I don’t want.
  • They aren’t as tough and can’t go the places I want to go, although to be fair, they can get close.

In today’s post I want to talk about my friend Ed’s 6×12 cargo trailer conversion. I am very impressed with just what he’s done because he makes excellent use of his space and yet it came out looking very nice. He’s struck a very good balance of form versus function. The trailer looks nice, it’s very comfortable and yet makes excellent use of it’s small amount of space.
In the above picture we’re looking forward to the front of the van. The most obvious thing you see is the nice paneling he used to cover the walls and ceiling. It looks nice and gives his home a very nice, warm feel. His bed is on the side opposite of the front door with storage under it.  Against the front wall he  built a storage unit and his flat-screen TV is on it. He gets TV from over-the-air broadcast stations.
Here were looking at the back of the van. On the right side, behind the bed is a shelf and storage unit. On the left is a long counter top that he uses as his kitchen and office.
When I asked him why he was living in a cargo trailer he said there were two main reasons:

  • Conscience: he’d come to the point where he was sick and tired of the consumerism of our society and wanted out of it.
  • Consequences: some of the things he’d done in his life had reached a boiling point and came together to require he make a change.

I won’t go into details on his life, but that’s exactly what happened to me. The consequences of my bad marriage finally came together and led to divorce and that’s how I ended up in a van.
Here’s a close-up of the closet and storage shelves. Notice the peg-board, I love peg-board and find it very practical for organization. Just like Ed, my most used tools are hanging where I can get them quickly and easily.
At the bottom of the storage unit Ed has a Whytner 12 volt compressor fridge.
Looking back at the left side of the trailer you can see the counter-top he built with some of the storage underneath it. From the front you can see his laptop, stove, sink and water container.  Above the counter you can see he has peg-board all along the wall which greatly enhances his organization. You can also see his vent in the roof for ventilation.
Under the sink is a water jug to act as a grey water tank. When it gets full enough he takes it outside and dumps it.
A close-up of the peg-board.
He built the counter-top just the right height to hold these plastic drawer units,
With the 12 volt fridge, TV and computer, he needs a steady source of power and so he has these two solar panels mounted on the roof.


  1. Openspaceman

    Awesome trailer design…lots of great ideas! Looks like it will take a little while to secure everything before taking off. I got bungees all over the place for silent travel.

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, I can’t speak for Ed but on my trailer I’ve gotten pretty good at securing things. Remember that I stay put in one place for a long time so I lay things out while I’m there but even so I can pack things away inside in about 1/2 an hour. I think Ed’s plan is similiar to mine.

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Openspaceman,
        It actually is pretty easy to get ready for travel. The things on the counter I put on the floor, the tv, laptop and such I put on the bed and put my pillows over them. In the pictures, you will see the shelves have a built in 1 x 4 at the front to eliminate things from falling out during travel. Set the trailer supports and tv antennae inside and you’re off.

  2. jonthebru

    I was just looking at 6 x 12 ft cargo trailers online yesterday. Surprisingly inexpensive, under $2K. Looking at what others have done and planning well for the build could end in a really nice home on wheels as ED has shown.

    • Bob

      jonthebru, I agree, for the money they are a great buy. Especially when you consider that they will be trouble-free for decades to come.

  3. Deborah

    I would like to know how he attached the porch tarp/tent to give him shade. Also how hot and/or cold does it get inside the trailer?

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Deborah,
        I attached the ARB awning to a 1×4 that I stained and put polyurethane on. I drilled 1/4 inch holes through the side of the trailer (i believe 5) and used 4 inch carriage bolts and 1 inch washers and nylon locking nuts to secure it from the inside of the trailer. I’m pretty sure it will never come down.
        The trailer has 1 inch insulation throughout which makes about a 12-15 degree difference in outside temperature. Cargo trailers are essentially just a tin box on wheels, so it will heat up fairly quickly. I have a 12 volt box fan I use during the summers and it hardly ever gets over 75-78 degrees.
        I have spent winters in Colorado boondocking in it and without heat, it would drop below freezing inside. I use my Olympian heater pretty much 24/7 and it stays around 65 degrees. Thank you.

  4. Alan

    Bob, you’ve talked about trailers before. But the price differential between a “roll your own” trailer and a manufactured travel trailer never sunk in until now, probably because I was pricing some a few weeks ago. And even when I was considering the travel trailers, I kept thinking to myself that I don’t really like the layouts and features anyway.

    • Bob

      Alan, my brand new trailer cost me $2500 and the plywood and insulation cost me another $300. You can buy a used Travel Trailer for that but it will be old, beat-up and very heavy. I think you’re looking at a lot of repairs fairly soon while with the Cargo trailer you are looking at decades of trouble free service.
      If you don’t need the comfort it’s a pretty easy decision.

  5. tommy helms

    Do you need to level the cargo trailer like you do on a travel trailer? Or do you just need to level the fridge?

    • Bob

      Tommy, the 12 volt compressor fridges don’t need to be level at all, that is one of their big advantages along with you can easily run them off solar power alone.
      You can easily lever them for to aft with the tongue jack and for side to side I just do with either blocks or dig a hole for one tire. Their small size and weight makes it very easy.

      • LaVonne Ellis

        How much solar power do you think a 12v compressor fridge would need? I have 100 watt panel now. Would 200 do it? And, I assume, a second battery?

        • DougB

          My guess LaVonne, yes. But look at your battery first, since that’s where it starts.

        • Bob

          Hi Lavonne, 100 watts would be minimal but 200 should work just fine. I have 190 watts and I have no trouble with mine.

          • Eddie P.

            Hi Lavonne,
            I have 240 watts of solar on the trailer and 200 amp hours of batteries and never have an issue.Thanks.

        • alfred

          Hi, LaVonne,
          DougB above is right, depends on your battery.
          Also, (and not in any way to contradict our far more experienced blogger) but Bob may actually be overestimating the amount of solar you need.
          Basically it depends on how much the fridge in question draws. An example: ARB’s 50 quart model draws 0.87 amps per hour.
          So, if your deep cycle storage battery(batteries) store say 150 amps, and presuming half of that is usable, (75 amps), if you just ran the fridge alone and there was no charging of the battery pack via solar or other sources, you could run the fridge for 86 hours or about three and a half days.
          Of course, you are probably going to be running other things as well, and also, you are likely to be charging the battery most days via solar.
          If you haven’t already done so, you may want to take a look at Bob’s very fine articles on solar here by clicking on the ‘solar and wind’ button at the top of the page.

          • Bob

            Alfred, I think you’ve got the wrong number on the ARB, that’s only 10 watts and they are much more than that. At a minimum they are 3 amps and probably closer to 5-8 amps.
            Probably what you did was take the watts listed at 110 volts but when it comes off a battery you divide by 12, not by 110.
            Plus, you plan solar for the worst weather and conditions, not for the best. After a week of rain, will you still want power for your fridge? If the sun comes out for a few hours a day in breaks in the clouds, you’ll be really glad for too much solar, and not just enough.
            I’ve never heard anyone say they wish they had bought less solar, but I’ve heard lots of people say they wish they had bought more.

  6. Christine

    I noticed that he has a small piece of insulation strapped to the fridge. Is that to help keep the fridge cool? Does it help significantly?

    • Bob

      Christine, hopefully Ed will answer but I added insulation all around my fridge and I’ve found it helps a lot.

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Lavonne,
        I have 240 watts of solar on the trailer and 200 amp hours of batteries and never have an issue.Thanks.

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Christine,
        Yes that is insulation wrapped around the fridge. The nature of an enclosed Cargo Trailer being a metal box does not dissipate heat very well, so the insulation does help. To what degree, I don’t know, but I’m thinking of totally enclosing the unit in an an insulated box( with venting). Thank you.

  7. Greg

    Bob, that looks like a well made trailer. Do you know what brand it is? Greg

    • Bob

      Greg, hopefully Ed will answer.

      • Eddie P.

        My apologies for the answer delay. The trailer is a CargoMate. It cost me $3500 about two years ago in Denver. They are pretty durable, but my opinion, you could probably get a 6×12 for less. The company Bob bought his from has dealers throughout the US and typically are less expensive and seem to be every bit as durable.Thanks.

        • Calvin R

          I did a craigslist search for 6 x 12 cargo trailers. About $1900 to around $2500 seems to be ordinary in the Ohio-Kentucky-Tennessee area.

  8. Joe S

    Bob – any idea on how much that trailer weighs or how much your trailer weighs? I realize the weight changes depending on how much gear and water you carry but do you have an estimate on the unloaded weight?
    I think this is the route I should go with my V6 Tacoma. I don’t think I’d want to go over 4,000 lbs fully loaded even though max tow rate on my truck is over 6,500 lbs.

    • Bob

      Joe, my trailer is 1300 pounds empty and I estimate the conversion materials are 300 pounds for a total of 1600 pounds. And then I have all my stuff in it and I don’t know how much it weighs.
      It will work your Tacoma hard up the hills.

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Joe,
        The trailer weighs 1300 empty and I’ve added about 600 lbs of permant fixture to it. I pull it with a V8 SUV and obviously never have an issue with it. Thank you.

  9. Naomi

    I really like this.
    What does he do for ventilation and heat?
    Also, is it possible/practical to cut into the side and add some sort of plexiglass window for light and ventilation?
    Thanks again, Bob

    • Bob

      Hi Naomi, he has a vent in the roof and if you look at the photo of the front door, he has a Olympian catalytic heater which does a great job of getting him heat.
      I installed two RV windows in my cargo trailer, it’s not the least bit hard for anyone who has any experience with building.

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Naomi,
        As Bob said, I have an Olympic Catalytic heater that I hook to a 10 lb propane bottle outside. That type of heat is an excellent source being much more even and consistent. I also have a Mr. Buddy that I use if it gets really cold and want really quick heat.
        Ventilation is by roof vent. I do have a sliding window I purchased on E Bay and am waiting to install it. That will help with cross ventilation.

  10. Irv Oslin

    Amazing use of space. And, you’re right, these trailers seem to be a much better way to go than RVs. I lived in a few and most are pretty shoddy.

    • Bob

      Irv, it’s amazing to me how shoddy most RVs are. They are so expensive and yet they start falling apart as soon as you drive off the lot.

  11. Greg

    Bob, another thing that comes to mind, insurance. How do the insurance companies look at this? Will they insure as a camper and cover contents? Greg

    • Bob

      Greg, I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t carry insurance on mine at all.

      • Eddie P.

        As Bob, I too don’t carry insurance, but these trailers are designed for industrial use and I would think those companies have tools and equipment stored in them and probably would have insurance on them.

    • DougB

      Greg, your car insurance will most likely cover for liability, since when attached, it’s part of your vehicle, but will not help you if the rig is disabled on the road or damaged. RV insurance such as Coach-Net ( will help that, but only their more costly plan will begin to treat your trailer and contents as a home. You’ll have to contact them to find out what is specifically covered, and whether they will consider a roll-your-own trailer as coverable as a TT.

  12. Capt Papa Joe

    Very nice setup, a workshop, a man cave, a cabin. All the comforts of home sweet home. I have some of those same shelf containers in my sailboat. Great conversion by Ed, thank you Bob for another great post.

    • Bob

      All the credit goes to Ed, Capt Joe!

      • Eddie P.

        Thanks Capt Joel. It was fun building it out and I must say, I essentially copied Bob’s ideas for the layout. Thanks.

  13. Cae

    Very nice. Thanks. At $2000, they are way cheaper and look way stronger than a travel trailer. Nice call!,,

    • Bob

      Ed did a great job CAE!

  14. Canine

    The vent, without being an actual skylight, seems to provide a great deal of ambient light. While you can’t see out of it like a window, does that help with making living in a place with no windows more comfortable?

    • Bob

      Canine, I have vent covers over mine and they block a lot of the light. Ed’s seems to let a lot of light in.

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Canine,
        I would add windows as Bob has done. I’ve actually purchased a window on E Bay and am waiting to install it and that will add a lot more light. I wouldn’t recommend staying in one with no windows for long periods of time as I have done last winter. It does make you a little crazy not being able to see out. On the other hand, you are totally stealth that way in the city (as I was) and could watch tv or listen to satellite radio without anyone knowing. Thank you.

  15. jim

    Thanks so much for the post and the pictures words can not start to say how much i enjoyed them and thank you so much Mr Bob for all your time and work for putting this altogether for us that is still having to live on the other side please keep them coming

    • Bob

      Thank you Jim!

  16. Ken in Anaheim

    Bob; I’m curious as to what kind of mileage you get with and without your trailer ?

    • Bob

      With my Chevy Express with a 350 V8 I get 13 without it and around 10 with it.

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Ken,
        I have a V8 5.3L SUV and unfortunately only get around 11-12 MPG when pulling the trailer. Without the trailer, I get around 16-17 MPG. But with gas around $2.00 it doesn’t hurt as much as previous years. Thank you.

  17. DougB

    A very appealing build-out, and that awning looks real handy for handling wind.

    • Bob

      Dough, he did a great job! The wing is the ARB I put on mine, It’s a good awning.

      • Eddie P.

        Hi Doug,
        Bob tells me I need to answer these comments…Yes, the canopy is ARB as Bob said and I mounted it to a 1×4 and mounted the whole unit to the side of the cargo trailer and bolted on the inside. Those units are top of the line and very easy to set up and extremely durable. I really like mine, but when the wind hit 25 mph or so down here in Arizona over Christmas, I had to take it down because it was going to sail away as the heavy canvas makes a great sail!!

  18. Omar Storm

    Hi Bob,
    I wonder if we could purchase cargo trailers such as yours already converted? Thanks for another great post.

    • DougB

      I’m not aware of a source myself Omar, since a pre-built drops you back into TT territory, where the space is predefined for you. But one option is to have an enclosed trailer customized by the manufacturer with choices about flooring, wall materials, windows, doors and vents. Concession trailers come from this. You can look for “enclosed trailer options” on to get some idea of what’s available, with prices, but hold onto your wallet!

      • Teresa

        Check out weeroll…they are in Florida,Bob did a great video about them.

    • Doug Rykerd

      Now that mine is almost done, I might be willing to help someone build theirs. As long as they weren’t in a rush.

    • Bob

      Omar, sorry to be so late answering, actually, I have seen them for sale here on a lot in Quartzsite. I don’t know if it is a national thing or the local dealer did it.
      The carpentry in the conversion is so basic any handyman could be hired to do it. For the electrical you could either learn it or get an auto mechanic or RV tech to do it or help you with it.

    • Bob

      Omar, actually you can, there is a RV dealer here in Quartzsite who has them on his lot. I don’t know if they are a national thing or if he is building them himself.
      They aren’t hard to do yourself. It’s just basic carpentry and if you can’t do it any handyman can for not much money. The electrical can be done by most auto mechanics or RV tech.

  19. Omar Storm

    Doug B, Thanks for the information. I’ll have a look.

  20. Doug Rykerd

    Nice set up. If I didn’t need to sleep more than one person, I would do something like that. I really like all the storage. I’m headed out to RTR this afternoon so hopefully I’ll be meeting many of you by tomorrow evening. Real icy roads here in Colorado presently, so it’s a good time to head toward warm weather.

  21. RVTravel

    I’d guess paying someone to convert your cargo trailer may cost nearly as much or more than the trailer itself.

    • Eddie P.

      The reason I went with a Cargo Trailer instead of a travel trailer was 1) Weight for gas mileage and 2) cost. A travel trailer would have been much more expensive with the initial cost and most seem to have inherent problems with the different systems. And with a used travel trailer, you never really know what you’re getting and could be a major headache. I did put about $1000 into the build out but having someone else do it would eliminate most of the fun for me in designing and carrying out the design. I’m not the best carpenter around, but I’ve built things for years, so it helps to have the experience.
      By the way, I built this out in a Walmart parking lot over about a month without many power tools and no work table, vise or the usually wood shop accessories.

      • Calvin R

        For those of us with less skill/ability/willingness to build something elegant, Bob did a post not long ago about furnishing from thrift shops and Walmarts that could be useful.

  22. Ming

    very enjoyable post and comments. Thank you for the tour and the answers. It’s good to know one could build up something sturdy and reliable to live in with regular carpentry skills. Some blogs I’ve seen from people who bought fiberglass egg fixer uppers are on the scary side, where the owners got into extensive reglassing and rewelding of rusty frames. That’s a bit more than I’d want to take on.

  23. Rogue

    Very nicely done! Wood is good! And it is sweet and simple. I wonder if I might downsize to something like this some day. A 28′ Class A with a toad is severely limited in terms of mobility. Yet it does have the capacity to haul supplies. I might give such a trailer a lift and use a 4WD to pull it. How wonderful that might be… I’ll keep your build in mind.

  24. alfred

    (on the fridge specs above)
    Hi, Bob!
    Gosh, I hate to get into a disagreement with one of my favorite bloggers (and perhaps the most polite and encouraging of them all) on my first post.
    I double checked ARB’s site:
    and took this from their specs:
    “All sized models are able to maintain sub-freezing temperatures in 90° F heat, while only drawing 0.87 amps per hour (50QT model) from a 12 volt power source.”
    But I would certainly agree, weather is a big factor and most folks want as much solar power (and battery storage) as they can get.
    Next time, I promise to say something less controversial

    • Bob

      Alfred, that’s actually a very deceptive piece of advertising deliberately trying to deceive. They make it etremely difficult to find their specifications. Go to the bottom of the page and click on Fridges and then click on the 65 quart model and then click on the PDF. Scroll almost all the way to the bottom to get to the specs. Here is where they can’t decive and they admit that it draws 7 amps per hour.
      That’s a little on the high side, the Dometic draws 4 and my Whytner draws 5.5 amps per hour.
      The other part of the equation is the duty cycle–how many hours a day does the fridge run? What they’ve done is multiplied the 7 ah by how long they expect it to run per day, then divided that by 24 and got an average per hour. If it runs 3.5 hours a day at 7 amps per hour that’s about 24 ah divided by 24 equals about an 1 amp per hour.
      First, at 90 degrees that’s very unrealistic it will only run 3 hours a day. I’ve seen them, they are not that well insulated. I’d guess a minimum of 5 hours at 7 ah so it’ll draw a minimum of 35 ah per day.
      So what we have is a difference of terminology, there is no way any fridge only draws .87 while it is running. But of you divide that out by hours per day and use extremely optimistic projections you can say it draws .87 per hour.
      No one but them uses that kind of terminology and makes it so hard to find the truth. I still think that’s very deceptive.

  25. E.M. from TN

    Most cargo trailers are designed to be secured from the outside. What modifications were done to make the trailer lockable from inside while (simultaneously) not allowing a prankster to slap a lock on it from outside?
    Thank you!

    • Bob

      E.M. I didn’t notice what Ed did (hopefully he’ll tell us) but I used a simple gate bolt to secure it from the inside. For the first year I worried about being locked in and put a padlock through the latch every night when I went to bed so I couldn’t be locked in. But I either camp alone or with friends so there is no real risk. Anymore I just never give it any thought or do anything about it.
      I have windows, worse comes to worse I can break a window and climb out.

  26. Dan P

    I’m looking into a cargo trailer; and I feel it would be a good fit for me. My question is:
    What would be a good vehicle to tow this? Specifically to drive from NY to FL through the mountains for the season changes?
    thanks, yours looks amazing!

    • Bob

      Dan, I don’t think you can beat a Chevy Express van with the 5.3 V8, it’ll have plenty of power and lots of room for your stuff. Towing it’ll get 12 mpg and without the trailer it can get 17-20 mpg on the highway. Jud and I took her to Alaska and averaged 17 mpg for the trip.

      • Don Lowery

        Buddy of mine in Arizona found me a 2002 Ford Expedition with a 5.4 V8 with 4-wheel drive. I take it that it would pull a 6×12 up to a 7×20 cargo trailer with enough power to spare?

        • Bob

          Don, it can handle it with no problem. The 7×20 is getting a little big for it, but load it lightly and it will be okay.

  27. Don Lowery

    Thank you for showing us your home! Am relocating to Oregon about this time next month and was considering cashing out a 3 year teacher’s pension and purchase a cargo trailer like you and others have done. With two major scares in the last year…thought I was going to lose my room I was renting. Was considering a wider/bigger trailer than you have…but are there places for me to rent space in Western Oregon and be able to work a full-time job? As long as I keep the outer shell looking like a “normal” trailer…would I be able to keep trailer tags on it or would I need to pony up to RV tags? Anything else you have run across which would help me to make a decision on getting/finishing up my own home?

    • Bob

      Don, I’m really sorry but I know nothing about Oregon or its rules on trailers. I’m afraid I’m not much help.

  28. peter white

    Hi Guys, i really like reading about this type of living! i have been convinced this life is really fun. i am waiting to buy a 2017 toyota tacoma v6 engine with 6500 tow capacity later this year,and have been looking at the 7-14 tandem wheel “wells cargo”,empty weight 1800lbs with electric brakes. i am looking forward to getting it set up with cabinets, 110 and 12 volts and will install windows, e.t.c. i have just retired and have made a couple of trips to arizona for hiking the superstition mountains. i am looking forward to spending the winters there, see you guys at quartzite az in 2017.

    • Bob

      Peter, that sounds like a really good plan! See you soon!

  29. peter white

    Sorry, i am new to computers,not sure how to add comments.

    • Bob

      This is right Peter, your first post had to be approved so we know it’s not spam.

  30. Phil

    More and more excellent ideas. Very nice and homey. I really like the paneling and the compact “a place for everything and everything in it’s place design.

    • Bob

      Phil, he did a great job!

  31. Bryce

    Hello, do these cargo trailers come with brakes and brake controllers or do you need an aftermarket solution? Do you even need them with this weight? thx.

    • Bob

      Bryce, it depends on the laws of the state, they are all different. In most states anything under 2000 pounds does not need brakes and won’t come with it. Most of these smaller trailer are under 2000 pounds.

  32. Kenn

    Bob.. i have a question about dumping gray water on the BLM. We have a 30′ camper with 42 gal fresh tank. we can last about 10 days before needing to dump. Is this dumping allowed?? I composte so my black water issues are resolved but grey water is not. Is it legal or allowed to drain grey with a garden hose near the under brush?? what about in to a gully next to my site?? The hose would used daily as a continuous little flow from the camper…is this allowed?

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